Mystery Diner in Lacon: The Pizza Peel serves a different kind of slice

Pizzeria offers 24 topping options and variety of specialty recipes

Where pizza is concerned, Illinois Valley residents don’t have to travel far. The region abounds with great options close to home.

But sometimes it’s worth traveling for a different kind of slice.

A Peoria friend and I recently planned a dinner rendezvous at an approximate halfway point between our homes. At her recommendation, we met at The Pizza Peel in downtown Lacon.

The word “peel” in the restaurant’s name refers to the tool used to remove pizzas from the oven. “Historically, the tool has been known as a baker’s shovel, baker’s paddle or baker’s peel,” according to the company website, which notes that peels can be made of wood or metal. The Pizza Peel’s tool is a combination of the two, with an aluminum peel and a wooden handle.

The Fifth Street entrance to the basement-level pizza parlor is easy to spot with its yellow awning and a banner declaring “Pizza.” As a first-time visitor, I was happy to have an experienced Pizza Peel diner lead the way. Two staircases greet guests when they step through the door – one leading up, one leading down. My friend guided me down the stairs to the dining room.

As soon as the menus were in our hands, she debated aloud whether she wanted to order her previous favorite (the wings) or a new selection. When I mentioned how enticing the calzone sounded, that swayed her toward ordering one. The homemade crust is stuffed with cheese and up to four toppings from the menu’s list of 24 options.

Despite the temptation of a calzone, wings or one of the four sandwich choices, it seemed fitting for me to order the restaurant’s backbone: one of its gourmet pizzas.

The pizza options range from classic flavors such as the Pepperoni Passion (with double pepperoni) and the Carnivore (with ham, pepperoni, Italian sausage and beef) to specialty flavors such as the Mediterranean Chicken pizza and the Bacon Cheeseburger pizza.

I gravitated toward the Kickin’ Chicken, a pizza with a green chili base, red onion, tomatoes, chicken, diced green chilies and cheddar cheese. The recipe also includes black olives, which I chose to omit. The staff is accommodating to requests for adjustments.

With crust options of hand-tossed or thin crust, I selected hand-tossed. The crust offers a sturdy foundation beneath the layers of toppings for the Kickin’ Chicken.

The restaurant cuts its vegetables fresh daily, and their bright flavor is apparent in each bite.

A favorite side dish to accompany pizza is cheese bread, and The Pizza Peel offers two versions. The first is a standard cheese bread; the second is the Dylan, which adds cheddar cheese and bacon to the traditional recipe. Our table decided to split an order of the Dylan. The bread is cut into sticks, which makes it easy to dip into the provided cup of marinara. The portion is large enough to serve four to six diners; we divided the leftovers to share with our families.

The food alone is enough to make the trip worth it, but a bonus is the picturesque drive to get there. Lacon sits on Route 26, which is part of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. As I passed Billsbach Lake, which is a division of the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, I glimpsed a variety of birds standing in or floating on the water.

Residents of the Illinois Valley who are traveling south on Route 29 should be aware they’ll have to cross the Illinois River north of Lacon. The Route 17 bridge in downtown Lacon is closed for construction, so travelers can cross the river on Interstate 180 in Hennepin or on Route 18 in Henry.

The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.


WHAT: The Pizza Peel

WHERE: 340 Fifth St., Lacon

PHONE: 309-246-7400